"On Jerusalem, the choice of Allah of all his lands. In it are the chosen of his servants . -- sayings of the Prophet Mohanned "If I forget thee, o Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I perfer not Jerusalem above my highest joys ." The song of the exiled Children of Israel, Psalm 137
The day is indelible in the memory of Lea Majara Mintz: June 7, 1967, and a radio news broadcast reports that Israeli paratroopers have burst through St. Stephen's Gate and captured the Old City from the retreating Jordanian Army.
Jews everywhere are embracing one another and weeping shamelessly in their joy. They are dancing in the streets as they have not done since the founding of the Jewish state, and they will not soon forget the moment.
"It was the happiest day of my life. The most exhilarating, satisfying day of my life," recalled Mintz, a successful Israeli sculptor, while sitting in her restored 800-year-old house practically in the shadow of the ancient Wailing Wall at which Jews for 2,000 years have lamented the destruction of the second Temple by the Roman armies.
But another day is also etched in Mintz's memory. It is five days after the paratroopers' breakthrough, and Jews are celebrating Shavuot, the Feast of the Tabernacle. But that is not all they are celebrating.
A procession of thousands of Jerusalemites is winding its way through the Old City for the first time in 19 years. Mintz is among them, and she is struck by how many old people are there -- stooped old men in the black tunics of the Orthodox Hasidim, and old women covered by tattered shawls.
She remembers glancing up at the roofs and windows of the houses in the Moslem Quarter and seeing the resentful faces of the Arabs looking down at the procession, and wondering "what they thought of us, the victors, old and infirm, walking triumphantly through the conquered city."
For millenniums, parades of victors have similarly savored their conquests of Jerusalem and the vanquished have tasted the bitterness of defeat -- the kindom of David, the Babylonians, the Byzantines, the Persians, the Hasmoneans, the Romans, the Moslems, the Crusaders, the Turks and the British.
Perhaps more than any other place on earth, Jerusalem has stirred the passions of mankind for as long as history has been recored, inspiring warriors in battle, and thinkers to no less an achievement than to lay the foundations for the three great monotheistic religions.
But to Lea Majara Mintz, that triumphant walk back into the Old City meant something more personal -- like reawakening her past, or as if lifting a cloud from eight generations of her own family that have lived here and indeed, from 4,000 years of Jewish history.
In 1740, amide the wave of false messiahs that proligerated in Europe, Mintz's first immigrant forebear, an Amsterdam rabbi, sought refuge in Palestine. Several generations later, in 1870, Israel Bach established the first printing house in Safed, in north Galilee, but when his presses were destroyed during the Arab riots of the time he moved to Jerusalem and reestablished his business under the sponsorship of the famous Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore.
Mintz, whose father was a doctor, lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City until the 1936 Arab riots, when the family moved to West Jerusalem. But his father continued practicing in the Old City until 1948, and Mintz recalls accompanying him on his rounds in the labyrinth of narrow streets in both the Jewish and Arab quarters.
"It was very slummy and dirty then, but there was always a story with every stone, every wall and every alley. My memories of my childhood remain the strongest, and the Old City was forever a fascinating place," Mintz said.
It is said that the beauty of Jerusalem bewitches and that this is why the city has been fought over so many times. But Mintz thinks not.
"In Athens, in Constantinople [Istanbul] there are many things more beautiful, but nowhere have so many ideas grown up. For example, Christ. You know he walked here and you can feel his personality. For Jews, this place we are standing on was the last refuge after the Temple was destroyed.
"It is a spiritual place, and you can almost be overcome by its religious history. But it also is not a dead city. It continues to have life, like Zion Gate, where Jewish men and women fought and died in 1948 to save 2,000 people who were trapped, and girls and boys ran through gunfire and were killed also, "Mintz says.
The sounds of Old Jerusalem, also, have had their seductive effect on Mintz, who says she still is moved by the sounds of the Moslem muezzin and the prayers of the religious Jews intermingling. "I'm not religious, but how can you not be effected by this?" Mintz asked.
Then comes the hard question, abruptly shattering the rhapsody of describing the aesthetic beauty of a beloved city and confronting the harsh reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict: Did Israel take Jerusalem away from the Arabs?
Mintz's soft features harden for the briefest of moments. "I really resent it, if they put that way," she said. "I understand the Moslems' interest in Jerusalem, but they don't understand the Jewish interest in Jerusalem."
"I don't feel we've taken it away. The Arabs didn't have all rights here, they shared it for a while with a lot of other people, like the crusaders. But they really don't have their culture developed here as Jews do. Our culture belongs to the place, all our holy days belong to the land, our days of war; our days of happiness, our language belongs here," Mintz said firmly.
Suddenly, the spectacle of two people fighting over the same house, as the Palestinians and Jews have been doing for years, eclipses the esoteric discussion on the strange magnetism of Jerusalem. The Jewish people's dark history here and in the diaspora and their relentless struggle for survival, become another dimension of Jerusalem's mystical hold on Mintz and other Israelis, and the problem of Jewish and Arab claims to the Holy City seems more insoluble than ever.
"As a Jew, you want to live in a place where you are not endangered because you are a Jew. Is is the most elementary thing in the world to want," Mintz said.
"As far as the Palestinians are concerned. I don't think they have the same problems as we do.They have so many Arab countries they can go to. Where do we go? Our backs are to the wall. How can we posssibly give up Jerusalem?"